How to Get the Most Out of the Windows 10 File Explorer

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Windows File Explorer is one of the most underrated features of Windows 10. In its rawest form, the file manager has been around since Windows 3.0. It may seem like a Windows relic, but it’s gone through many iterations and few users are aware of its full potential.

Let us show you how to manage and control the Windows 10 File Explorer from the bottom up and reveal features you never knew existed.

1. File Explorer Keyboard Shortcuts

If you know only two keyboard shortcuts for Windows File Explorer, you’ll be way ahead of everyone else.

The first is Windows key + E. It will launch File Explorer and you can open a second or third window by clicking the shortcut again — remember this for when you want to move files from one folder to another. You can instantly dock freshly opened File Explorer windows by clicking Windows key + left / right / up / down arrow keys.

The second is ALT. Windows 10 File Explorer menu is organized like the Ribbon interface in Microsoft Office, and its internal keyboard shortcuts work in exactly the same way. Click the ALT key to bring up the shortcut options. For exmple F opens the File menu, H jumps to the Home menu, and numbers refer to the shortcuts in the Quick Access Toolbar.

Windows 10 File Explorer Keyboard Shortcuts

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Pressing ALT, followed by F will open the File menu with all following keyboard shortcuts highlighted, such as N to Open new window or W to expand the new window options. This works with all the other menus, too, meaning you don’t actually have to remember the shortcuts in advance, you can follow and learn them as you go. Just remember to press ALT when you’re inside File Explorer.

Windows 10 File Explorer File

We have written an entire guide on Windows keyboard shortcuts, where you’ll find many more handy tips like those above.

Note: Through the File menu you can use the Open new window in new process option to create a whole new explorer.exe process, which means that if one process crashes, all others will not be affected.

2. Optimize File Explorer Menus

As mentioned above, the Windows 10 File Explorer Ribbon mimics Microsoft Office. To permanently expand or Minimize the Ribbon right-click an empty space in the menu and check or uncheck the respective option.

Windows 10 File Explorer Minimize Ribbon

When you choose to have the Ribbon minimized, it will only pop up as you click or use a keyboard shortcut to open one of the menus.

3. Add Items to the Quick Acccess Toolbar

The Quick Access Toolbar is a bar of icons typically shown in the top left of every File Explorer window. To make it Show up below the Ribbon, click the arrow icon to its right and select the corresponding option.

Windows 10 File Explorer Quick Access Toolbar

You can add any option from the Ribbon interface to the toolbar for quick access. This won’t just place the item in a convenient location, it will also give you a quick access keyboard shortcut. Right-click the respective item and select Add to Quick Access Toolbar (QAT).

Windows 10 File Explorer Add to Quick Access Toolbar

Tip: Some folders offer advanced options in the Manage menu, for example Dropbox, any attached drives, and the Recycle Bin. That means you could, for example, add a folder-specific operation, like Empty Recycle Bin to the QAT.

Windows 10 File Explorer Recycle Bin

4. Change the Folder Layout

For each folder, you can set a custom layout, i.e. change how the files in the folder are displayed. You have the choice between extra large, large, medium, and small icons or you can display files in a list with or without details. The respective options are available from the View menu.

Windows 10 File Explorer View Menu

You can also add various panes, including an additional Navigation pane, which displays the contents of a selected folder, a Preview pane, which is handy for mixed file folders that also contain images, and a Details pane, that lists the size, dimensions, or dates the file was created and modified at.

Windows 10 File Explorer

Under Current view (still in the View tab), you can adjust how files are organized. For example, you can Sort by Size, Group by Type, or Add columns, if files are listed with details. All these settings will be saved for the current folder.

Tip: If you need to sort a folder by columns, you can sort multi-tier: sort the folder by one column, then hold SHIFT as you sort by a second column.

5. Show & Hide Files

Still in the View menu, you can quickly show or hide File name extensions and Hidden items. File Explorer also offers a quick way to Hide selected items.

Windows 10 File Explorer Show Hide Files

Since the show option sits right next to it, this is not a very smart way to actually hide files. We recommend a few different techniques to reliably hide files on Windows.

6. Change the Folder File Explorer Opens To

In the Ribbon interface, navigate to File > Change folder and search options. The Folder Options menu will open. In the General tab, you can set your desired folder under Open File Explorer to. You can only choose from Quick Access or This PC. Click Apply and stay in this menu for the following settings.

Windows 10 File Explorer General Folder Options

7. Remove Recently Used Files and Folders from Quick Access

Under View > Options > General > Privacy, you can remove the checkmarks to Show recently used files / folders in Quick access. Press the Clear button to Clear File Explorer history and remove the existing listings.

Windows 10 File Explorer Privacy Folder Options

8. Apply Custom Settings to Folders or Restore Defaults

When you go to View > Options > View you have access to a few more Advanced settings. I like to Display the full path in the title bar, Show hidden files, folders, or drives, and Restore previous folder windows at logon. You can also disable the default setting to Hide extensions for known file types or Launch folder windows in a separate process.

More importantly, you can conveniently Apply all your custom settings to all folders “of this type”. What this means is that you’re creating a new style for a certain folder type.

Windows 10 File Explorer Folder Options

To set the proper folder type before you apply a new style, right-click the respective folder and select Properties. Head to the Customize tab and from the drop-down menu under Optimize this folder for, pick an adequate type.

Windows 10 File Explorer Folder Type

In case you’ve messed up, you can also Reset Folders or Restore Defaults under the Folder Options described above.

9. Customize Quick Access & Jump Files

Quick access is a list of frequently opened folders in the File Explorer sidebar. Quick access replaced Favorites in File Explorer. By default, it only lists the folders you access most often. To add a custom folder, right-click it and select Pin to Quick access. Likewise, to remove an entry, right-click the folder and select Remove from Quick access.

Windows 10 File Explorer Pin to Quick Access

We have shown you above how you can clear and disable the list of recent files. If you do that, Quick access will work exactly like the Favorites list found in previous Windows versions.

Jump Files are the shortcuts you see when you right-click on an item in your Taskbar. You can pin any of your most visited items, although in Windows 10, at least if you have cleared your recent files, the File Explorer Jump List appears to be identical with Quick access. You can still right-click an item and select Unpin from this list to remove it.

Windows 10 File Explorer Jump File

10. Share Files Straight From File Explorer

The context menu within Windows File Explorer has had Send to and Share with options for a long time, but have you used them much? Beyond sending shortcuts to the desktop, these options have never seemed particularly useful. That’s because you never bothered to customize them.

Press Windows key + R to launch the Run menu, type shell:sendto and hit Enter to open the folder that holds the shortcuts that show up in the Send to menu. Add and remove shortcuts as you please and enjoy your new share options.

Further, you can reveal hidden Send to entries if you hold SHIFT before you select and right-click the target file and navigate to the Send to option. The screenshot below only highlights a small selection of those additional options.

Windows 10 File Explorer Additional Send to Options

In Windows 10, File Explorer features a revamped Share menu that includes some more useful options.

Windows 10 File Explorer Share Menu

Before you can make use of this, however, you need to set up apps to share through. For example, the Share option only works with Windows Store apps, such as Facebook, OneNote, or Twitter. Likewise, the Email option requires that you have set up a default desktop email client via Settings (Windows key + I) > System > Default apps.

We found the new Share menu a little unpredictable. It still uses the retired charm menu, which makes it seem like an unfinished product. If you’re getting a good use out of it, we’d be curious to hear how you do it.

Exploring Files Has Never Been More Convenient

While Cortana is arguably the most exciting new feature in Windows 10, it will be a while until she can fully measure up to the tried and tested File Explorer. Maybe one day you’ll voice command your computer to find and open files. Meanwhile, you know how to take advantage of a tool that’s been over 25 years in the making. Although truth be told, we only touched the surface of everything the Windows 10 File Explorer can do.

Now that you got to know the Windows 10 File Explorer in all its glory, what was the biggest revelation? Which feature do you wish you’d known about sooner? And what did we miss? Please share with us in the comments!

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